Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

 

 
The Playing Card Cube
 

This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami design known as the Playing Card Cube or, in more modern times, as the Business Card Cube. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

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This painting, signed L Watteau was advertised for auction by Sotheby's in 2011 as being of the 18th Century French School (so dating prior to 1800). If this is the case, it is the earliest known illustration of both the Playing Card Cube itself and of the method of joining them together to make a larger structure by interlocking the external flaps.

From the signature, the artist is possibly Louis Joseph Watteau (1731 - 1798).

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Instructions for making a version of the Playing Card Cube design appear under the heading 'Boites de Carte' in 'Manuel Complet des Jeux de Société' by Elisabeth Celnart, which was published by La Librairie Encyclopedique de Roret in Paris in 1827. This version seems to be intended to be joined together using glue, with the lid attached using a ribbon. Roughly, 'It is not a question of making those small boxes made by cardboard manufacturers, which are too difficult for small children to make; my boxes are quite simply a very easy amusement. To make them, my dear friends, you will only have to fold the two ends of the cards, as if you wanted to make plates with very wide edges. Then you will take these, apply them one on the other, and make them hold together by passing the edges one over the other. You will thus prepare six double pieces, taking care to make two shorter than the others. These two pieces are intended to make the sides of the box. The other four will form the bottom, the top or cover, and the two transverse faces (ie the front and back). You will then glue the two sides to the bottom, which you want to do on a table, then the two other sides opposite each other. You will attach the cover at the end of one of the sides, passing, a few lines from each end, a shovel loop of ribbon, which you will tie a little loose to let the cover play, and you will have a very nice piece of furniture.'

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'Manual completo de juegos de sociedad o tertulia y la prendas', translated by Frances for D. Mariano de Rementería y Fica, which was published by Palacios in Madrid in 1831, contains a translation of the section about the 'Boites de Carte' which appeared in Celnart (see above).

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Playing Card Cubes also appear in this 1837 painting by the Ukrainian artist K. Pavlov (1792 - 1852) which is in the possession of the Pskov State United Historical and Architectural Museum.

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A written description of how to make a Playing Card Cube appears in 'Juegos de los Ninos', which was published in Madrid by R y Fonseca in 1847. This also appears to have been based on Celnart (see above).

The Playing Card Cube

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A version of the Playing Card Cube with a small hole in the centre of the top card that could be used as an apparatus for creating smoke rings appeared in 'Hanky Panky' by W H Cremer, Jun, which was published by John Camden Hotten in London in 1872.

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A similar version appeared in 'La Nature' 427 of 6th August 1881 in an article headed 'Sur Les Tourbillons Annulaires Des Liquides et Des Gaz' written by Adrien Guebhard, and subsequently in the third edition of 'Les Recreations Scientifiques' by Gaston Tissandier, which was published in 1883.

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Diagrams for the smoke ring producing version were also published, again in 1882, in The American Boys Handy Book by D C Beard, published by Charles Scribner's Sons in New York.

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The material from 'Les Recreations Scientifiques' by Gaston Tissandier also appeared in translation in 'Scientific Amusements' by Henry Frith, which was first published by Ward, Locke and Co Ltd in London, New York and Melbourne in 1890.

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The design also appeared in 'The Boy's Own Book of Indoor Games and Recreations', by G A Hutchinson, was published by the J B Lippincott Company in Philadelphia in 1890 under the title of 'The Puzzle Box'.

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'Pour Amuser Les Petits' by Tom Tit, published in Paris in 1894 by E Plon, Nourrit et Cie, contains chapters on how to make toys and amusements for children from, among other things, corks, oranges, nuts, playing cards and cartes de visite. This page shows toys that can be made from playing cards. At the top is the basic Playing Card Cube and below it a derivative Lidded Box made by first putting two cards together to create one side of the box and then linking them togerther with simple joining pieces.

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The smoke ring version of the design appears in another Tom Tit book, 'La Recreation En Famille' which was published in Paris in 1903 by Librairie Armand Colin.

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A third book by Tom Tit, 'Les Bon Jeudis', published in Paris in 1906 by Librairie Vuibert, showed how to link Playing Card Cubes together by means of their external tabs to create designs for modular buildings and trains.

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Diagrams for both the normal and smoke ring versions appear in 'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920.

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The standard version also appears as 'A Box of Cards' in 'Winter Nights Entertainments' by R M Abraham, which was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932.

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